New Abri chief pledges to modernise military

Regional Economic CRUNCH

NEWLY-APPOINTED Indonesian Armed Forces (Abri) chief General Wiranto yesterday pledged to modernise the military, but warned his troops that its task would be more difficult with the deepening economic crisis.

Speaking at a ceremony here to commemorate his appointment, he said Abri must strive to be “effective, efficient and modern”.

“In the years to come, Abri’s task will not be easy, given that the challenges will be greater,” he added.

Gen Wiranto, who represents a younger generation of officers pushing for more professionalism in the military, did not outline the areas he planned to modernise in Abri.

Analysts interpreted his remarks as a precursor to changes in Abri’s orientation towards domestic politics, which could see less emphasis on its socio-political role.

Through the constitutional principle of “dwifungsi” or dual function, Abri maintains a nationwide administrative apparatus down to the village level with the aim of maintaining internal security.

More than 60 per cent of the army battalions, for example, are assigned to these “territorial” commands rather than combat duties.

Some officers believe this has hindered Abri’s development as a professional force.

Its development is of even greater relevance now, given regional uncertainty in a post-Cold War era and the need to handle potential flashpoints such as the South China Seas and Natuna islands.

Gen Wiranto, a 50-year-old Yogyakarta-born Javanese Muslim, is said to be neutral in politics, distancing himself from Islamic forces and supporting the ruling Golkar party outright.

Outgoing military chief Feisal Tanjung said in his opening remarks that the 475,000-strong military would continue to play a key role in Indonesia despite the change in command.

“The main priority will be to maintain national stability,” he said at the ceremony which saw about 1,000 troops on display.

Meanwhile, Lt-General Prabowo Subianto, President Suharto’s son-in-law and the newly appointed Army Strategic Command chief, said Abri would not discriminate between indigenous Indonesians and the ethnic Chinese minority in riots breaking out across Indonesia.

“We are doing our best to ensure the safety of all citizens, whatever their ethnic group and religion,” he said in his first public comments after being promoted in a military reshuffle last week.

“The doctrine of Abri is that it is a people’s army and it will not fail the people.”

The military has deployed some 25,000 troops in Jakarta alone to safeguard security given the economic downturn and tensions ahead of next month’s presidential poll.

Most of the Java riots in the last few weeks were directed at the ethnic Chinese.

Posted in Indonesia